2019 Award Recipient
Mildred has always had a lot of energy. Left with four children to raise alone, she drove a school bus and worked for 28 years at the Jersey City Medical Center dietary unit, preparing food and checking in with patients. Then, when she enrolled in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) at Easter Seals a few years ago, her interviewer asked, “What would you really like to do?” Mildred didn’t hesitate: “Get my GED.” In the past there had never been any time for that, but she realized at that moment that it was her time.
The two-year journey wasn’t easy. Aches and pains were one challenge, but the main hurdle was getting back into “thinking mode” more than 50 years since her last classroom or textbook. The lessons seemed more sophisticated now, and learning alongside younger people who seemed smarter led her to question herself. Sometimes she experienced overwhelming feelings of defeat. But Mildred says her faith gave her the strength to keep studying and stick to her goal. Her family is so proud, they still tell people, “My mother went back to school and earned her GED at 73!”
It seems that Mildred is on a roll. Turns out she got comfortable in “thinking mode.” Currently a clerical aide in a senior housing complex, she also chairs the Participant Advisory Council at Easter Seals. Both positions give her an opportunity to pay forward the encouragement that SCSEP gave her to pursue her dream. Now she counsels other people her age and younger on getting an education and finding employment: It’s hard, but we can do it. Have faith!
Mildred has fond memories of a more peaceful time when people felt more personal connection. Nostalgia for Jersey City’s past inspires Mildred to speak up for older city residents who now find themselves struggling to make ends meet. When National Employ Older Workers Week starts the last full week of September, she plans to speak again with employers on behalf of older employees: “We need the job. We really want to work, and we can do it.” Mildred’s doing her part to make Jersey City a place where older workers can still lead a fulfilling life.